2017-01 DRARA newsletter article :: Remembering David Attwooll

2017-01 DRARA newsletter article

Remembering David Attwooll

Many people in our neighbourhood are missing David Attwooll, who died last August. This article was assembled with help from Trish, and draws on Kate’s tribute to her father published in the Guardian , https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/nov/16/david-attwooll-obituary

David Attwooll: In Kate’s words, ‘the perfect English gentleman with a wild blues soul.’
Photo: Kate Attwooll

David Attwooll was many things – an innovative publisher, a talented drummer, and an award-winning poet, to name just three. In our community, he will be warmly remembered for the energy and sparkle he brought to neighbourhood life, whether he was playing cricket for the Southfield Superstars, helping out at a local event, or drumming with gusto for The Horns of Plenty.

Having grown up in south-west London and studied in Cambridge, David spent most of his adult life in Oxford. His first graduate job was with Oxford University Press, where he launched the World’s Classics, the Oxford Paperback Reference, and the Past Masters series, as well as spending some time in Nigeria and New York. At the end of the 80s, he moved to Random Century, launching the Vintage and Red Fox imprints and publishing the first British Encyclopedia CD-Roms, before setting up Helicon, his own reference publishing company. Seven years later, he sold his successful business to WH Smith, and founded Attwooll Associates, an award-winning licensing consultancy.

In the later stages of his professional life, David became Chair of Liverpool University Press and also chaired the British Council’s Publishing Advisory Committee. In Oxford, he was involved with a wide range of cultural groups, chairing Oxford Artweeks and the Board of Trustees for Oxford Contemporary Music, as well as serving on the advisory board of Oxford Inspires.

Music was very important in David’s life. At Cambridge, he drummed for the cult band Henry Cow, once supporting Pink Floyd, and in Oxford  he was part of Humphrey Carpenter’s 1930s-style jazz band, Vile Bodies. More recently, many of us will remember his infectiously enthusiastic drumming for the marvellous Horns of Plenty street band. This was probably the activity he missed most over the last year when he became unable to continue playing.

David on drums with some members of The Horns of Plenty
Photo: Jenny Lewis

David was an accomplished and thoughtful poet. Having written poems as a student, he returned to poetry at the age of 60, inspired by a course led by Jenny Lewis, and, in just a few years, earned national acclaim. He published three pamphlets, Surfacing (2013), Ground Work (2014), and Otmoor (2016), and one collection, The Sound Ladder (2015). He also loved taking part in poetry readings, including memorable sessions at the Albion Beatnik Store and Art Jericho.

In 2016, David was joint winner of the Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year Award 2016. Sadly, this news came after his death, but the Attwoolls are putting his prize money towards a fund set up in David’s memory to help young people into the creative arts.  At the time of his death, he was working on a second collection of poems which will now be extended into a larger book of collected poems.

It was evident to everyone who knew him that family was central to David’s life, and he gained huge pleasure from family holidays and shared enthusiasms. Together, he and Trish travelled the globe, walked the Thames Path and the South Downs Way, enjoyed many happy family times in Cornwall, and set up a delightful pied-à-terre in Paris, which they shared generously with their friends.

As Kate wrote movingly, at the end of her Guardian tribute…
‘David was a wonderful husband and father, a brilliant friend, and the most modest of men, instantly filling those who knew him with a welcoming sense of human possibility and kindness.’

Trish, Will, Kate and Tom have chosen this poem of David’s:

Shotover Country Park


This steep hill was once on the London road:

a hazardous way through the woods with bands

of highwaymen. From a clearing we look south

to the gleaming Cowley Works and power station stacks

past Wittenham Clumps, monumental in the sun.

We pan across to motorways and the old Ridgeway

beyond, tracking forward, then tracking back.


Where paths fork there’s the power of crossroads:

Yoruba call it Eshu-Elegbara, trickster,

skirting the edge of chaos along the seam of past,

present, and other worlds. He energizes

tangled lines of force, dances to many different

drummers; interface god of messages, talk,

ambiguity, experiment, and choices.


Here, Shotover remembers the range it once covered,

aboriginal, retreating to safe high ground:

the privileged forest where kings rode with hounds

is boar-bereft, half a hill, a lopsided saddle.

There’s no nostalgia for a peasant’s burden,

agistment and pannage and quarrying ochre;

where swainmotes were held is now common land.


When our children were small and close

as the crook of my shoulder, tired from carrying

spades to split, dam, and direct the capillaries

of little streams in the hidden bowl

of the sandpit, these woods were an enormous

wilderness, enough to get lost in.

Sometimes on walks here I miss their sawny weight.


The children make their own way now, checking

luggage into terminals filled with charged static,

neon ghosts, and grey noise: scared, excited,

as I was when I flew straight to Lagos

for my first job, gazing down en route

at the Sahara and wide open space,

on my own, airborne, suddenly rootless.


David Attwooll